iPhone frenzy leads to adapters and accessories

[18 July 2007]

By Eric Benderoff

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

If you really want Apple Inc.‘s iPhone but don’t want to shell out $500, try linking an iPod Nano to a phone.

I did with Lenntek Corp.‘s Hookup Lanyard, a $69 gadget that uses Bluetooth to wirelessly communicate between your iPod and your phone.

The Lanyard hangs around your neck and comes with its own headphones. It plugs into the Nano and then pairs with your mobile phone, a process that worked smoothly and within minutes on my phone.

When a call came in, the music paused and I pressed a button on the Lanyard to answer. When the call was completed, the music resumed. Just like the process on the iPhone.

Sound quality was mixed. One caller (from a mobile phone) complained that I sounded tinny and remote while another (using a landline) said the sound was decent. In my ear, calls sounded fine.

The company also makes a Hookup Original for standard iPods - it comes with a car kit, too - and costs $129. Both products are sold at Micro Center computer stores (there are two in the Chicago area) or online at www.microcenter.com.

There’s no extra monthly charge for phone service, either.

Upgrading the iPod: I predicted this in January, but I feel certain now: The next iPod will include a healthy dose of the iPhone’s visual DNA. If you’re thinking of buying a new iPod this summer, show some patience.

Before the holidays, we’ll see an iPod with a much bigger screen that uses touch controls.

Apple is overdue for a new top-of-the-line iPod. This fall will mark two years since the last significant upgrade, and there’s no doubt that the iPhone is Apple’s best iPod so far.

If I’m wrong, it would be a huge missed opportunity for Apple. Yes, they signed a five-year deal for the iPhone with AT&T Inc., but not for the iPod. Why shouldn’t everyone else enjoy the tactile miracle that is the iPhone?

Apple can make the iPod just like the iPhone - just remove the phone. The iPod already holds contacts, photos and plays videos; now add Wi-Fi and a Web browser.

If Apple passes, I’d wager another MP3 player - perhaps an upgraded version of Microsoft’s Zune - will be able to surf the Web. (The Zune already has Wi-Fi for limited sharing of music. Just include a Web browser.)

Here’s a brief look at why the iPhone is a great iPod:

The visual scrolling of album art is a fantastic feature. As I wrote in my initial review of the iPhone, searching for tunes is like sifting through a crate of albums. It provides a constant state of discovery with your own music collection.

When the iPhone is held horizontally, a cascade of covers scroll by with the touch of your finger. Stop on an album, tap on it and you get a list of songs on that recording. You can scroll up or down on that list to pick the song you want.

If you’re listening to the iPhone and it’s in the vertical position, the album art becomes the dominant screen image. You can tap on controls that overlay the art to pause a song, skip ahead, adjust the volume and a few other tricks familiar to iPod users.

But you also can click on a little icon in the top right corner - it looks like a note pad - to change the album-art display into a song list from that recording (the icon switches to a mini-version of the album art). This is useful, particularly if you’re listening on Shuffle mode, because at a glance you can decide if you want to hear something else from that album or continue shuffling.

(For those of you who asked, here’s how to download album art: Go to the Advanced tab in iTunes and click on “get album artwork.” The software will go find album art missing from your collection. The art will appear on your iPod or iPhone the next time you sync. Not all the art will be found, however.)

There is one thing I don’t like with the iPhone’s iPod: It takes a few taps to pause music. You need to “unlock” the iPhone with a finger swipe and then hit pause. It can take a few more finger taps if you were using another function, say the photo viewer, when the iPhone is locked. It locks to conserve power and avoid an accidental tap, but faster access to pausing music would help.

If the next iPod had these features - plus a Web browser and 80 gigabytes of storage - you can forget about the current iLust for the iPhone.

Tricking out the iPhone: For iPhone owners, here come the accessories.

The iPod accessories business is estimated at more than $1 billion annually, although exact numbers are hard to find. So it’s not surprising third parties are lining up with gear for the iPhone.

Belkin has introduced several items, including a hard acrylic case ($30, www.belkin.com) that snugly wraps around the iPhone - except, of course, the touch screen and the slots for power, volume and headphones. The best part of this case: The belt clip doubles as a stand - to use horizontally or vertically - so the iPhone sits upright on a desk. It would be great for watching movies on a plane.

Belkin also sells a headphone adapter ($10) for the iPhone. You’ll need one for using headphones other than the pair Apple supplies with the iPhone. Apple made a curious decision with the iPhone. It recessed the opening for the headphone jacks so only models with the proper-size casing (Apple’s new ear buds) fit. (Shure Inc. also will be selling an adapter for its headphones.)

The iPhone is a lot like the iPod - a good pair of headphones is definitely an improvement, and if you buy a sound-isolating pair, your ears will thank you 20 years from now.

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Eric Benderoff writes about technology for the Chicago Tribune. Contact him at ebenderoff AT tribune dot com.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/iphone-frenzy-leads-to-adapters-and-accessories/